When Aristotle was born, I used to get warnings from well-intentioned relatives that I shouldn’t carry Aristotle too much or he would get spoilt and expect to be carried all the time. One of those well-intentioned relatives happened to be my mother who was rather proud of the fact that she left my brother to cry in his cot swinging his arms and legs until his momentum brought him from one end of the cot to the other where he finally fell asleep in exhaustion.
Well, that might have been the way things were done back then, but I certainly wasn’t exactly going to employ my mother’s methods. Nevertheless, I was swayed a little on the spoiling bit so I tried to encourage Aristotle to lie on his own for as much of the day as possible. Although I would always picked him up when he cried, I would leave him to lie on his own when he wasn’t fussing because I didn’t want him to develop an expectation that he was going to be carried all the time.
Needless to say that I eventually threw that idea out the door as well when I realised that I enjoyed holding my little boy close to me. Since all babies eventually grow up, I figured I had better make the most of it while he would still allow me to carry him. Perhaps it was just as well that I did…
Babies can die from “lack of love”…
When I was in Uni, I received a series of lectures about child development. During one of those lectures, our lecturer told us about a very interesting study on babies – the conclusion of which was that aside from basic care, babies also need touch to thrive. I had forgotten all about that study until I came across a similar study in “The Complete Secrets of Happy Children”.
Below is the gist of the study that I recalled hearing about from my lecturer. I’m afraid this is all based on what I remember hearing and I don’t even have the details of the study – as is the case of Chinese Whispers, I’m not sure if I’ve adapted the information since it is all based on the accuracy of my memory. Back then, my interest in children was probably at an all-time low and my attention in lectures was primarily focused on passing rather than because of any deep and meaningful interest in the subject.
They had two groups of infants. One group that was cared for by nurses who only tended to the babies basic needs. The babies were handled only when they needed to be fed and cleaned. In the other group of infants, the babies were also carried, and the carers interacted with the babies. They found that babies in the first group were stunted in their growth. Despite getting all the necessary care, they did not grow according as well as the babies that received more touch from their carers.
And below is the other study as cited from “The Complete Secrets of Happy Children”, which I thought I had better add since there is a possibility of embellishment of the above study since the reliance upon memory is always somewhat questionable (and hubby would say that mine is more so than the average person).
At the end of World War II, there were a lot of orphans who needed care. A Swiss doctor travelled around to learn what were the best methods for taking care of orphaned babies. He travelled around Europe and examined all the different styles of orphan-care to determine which was the most successful style. He witnessed a large spectrum of infant care.
In some places where American field hospitals had been set up, babies were snug in stainless steel cots, in hygienic wards and getting 24-hour feeds of special infant milk formula from nurses in crisply starched, white uniform.
At the other end of the spectrum were the remote mountain villages where a truck would pull up and ask the villagers if they could look after half a dozen babies. These babies were raised in the arms of the village women, surrounded by children, goats and dogs. They were fed goat’s milk and eventually ate from the communal stockpot.
The doctor’s method of comparing the different forms of care was by using the death rate. This was a time where dysentery and influenza took lives of many throughout Europe, yet the children raised in the villages were thriving better than those children who were cared for in the scientifically-managed hospitals.
Babies need love to thrive
The conclusion was clear. Babies needed “love” to thrive. In other words, he said:
- infants need frequent skin-to-skin contact from two or three significant people
- infants need movement of a fairly robust kind, e.g. being carried around, bouncing on a knee, etc.
- infants need eye-contact, smiling, colourful and lively environment, and sounds, such as singing, talking, etc.
Looks like we can all carry our babies to our heart’s content, guilt-free that we might be spoiling them. After all, it’s part of that very essential vitamin L that babies need to thrive.
The science of touch
Update 1: There is an article: “Hands on Research: The Science of Touch” that further affirms the importance of touch – not just for babies but for everyone.
“Touch can even be a therapeutic way to reach some of the most challenging children: Some research by Tiffany Field suggests that children with autism, widely believed to hate being touched, actually love being massaged by a parent or therapist.”
Update 2: According to Harvard researchers, Children Need Touching and Attention.
Instead of letting infants cry, American parents should keep their babies close, console them when they cry, and bring them to bed with them, where they’ll feel safe… The early stress resulting from separation causes changes in infant brains that makes future adults more susceptible to stress in their lives. – Michael L. Commons and Patrice M. Miller, researchers at the Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry.
In light of the recent “disciplinary” issues I have been having with Aristotle, this made me reassess how I handled Aristotle in times when he was being “disciplined” for misbehaviour. If difficult children can be reached more easily with touch, then surely it would work just as well with “normal” children? Perhaps if we applied more “touch” during discipline, there might be a greater willingness to cooperate? It seems highly likely when you consider the following findings:
” When psychologist Robert Kurzban had participants play the “prisoner’s dilemma” game, in which they could choose either to cooperate or compete with a partner for a limited amount of money, an experimenter gently touched some of the participants as they were starting to play the game—just a quick pat on the back. But it made a big difference: Those who were touched were much more likely to cooperate and share with their partner.”
“A study by French psychologist Nicolas Gueguen has found that when teachers pat students in a friendly way, those students are three times as likely to speak up in class.”
10 Psychological effects of non-sexual touch – a simple (nonsexual) touch can increase compliance, cooperation, honesty, generosity, and willingness to help.
If touch helps our children cooperate more readily, then this is one disciplinary tactic we should be using more often. The benefits of touch go beyond discipline – it’s also beneficial to our children’s overall health and emotional well-being.
I also recall reading elsewhere that when our children are young we generally fulfill their need for touch pretty well. As they grow older, however, we touch them less even though their need for touch is just as high as it was when they were little. When they fail to get adequate touch from their parents, they look elsewhere – namely, girlfriends and boyfriends. So even though your teenage son gets embarrassed when you hug him in front of his friends, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to be hugged any more, he just prefers to be hugged privately when his friends aren’t around to judge him.
If love to a baby is touch, then baby massages are the epitome of love. Here are 15 ways you can massage your baby: